Number of People Nice Enough to Stop By....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gone is the Flash....Caps get Hannan

By now it can be assumed that anyone who gives a whit about the Capitals knows about today's trade.

Welcome, Scott Hannan, to the Washington Capitals hockey team.

May I say that it is about damn time!

Now before we get too far into the analysis, I have to rate this act from GM (X2) an A+ and a home run.  Why?  Because the General Manager isn't prone to making deals when he feels his hand is forced.  Yet he knew all along that, despite expressing confidence in the defense, depth would be an increasing concern.  We as Caps fans have seen that concern magnified by the rash of injuries that have plagued them this year.  While the team has managed to keep on winning, one had to wonder when things would start to change.  I say they changed early last week with that 3-game slide where the team played like dog food on the road and got blown out twice.

Mr. McPhee may have seen that as the 1,000-volt lamp turned on in a dark room.  Then again, he may have had a deal planned all along.  Rumors at first swirled about a deal for Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa.  Regardless of how it happened or who we got, the point is that, for once, McPhee decided to act instead of either standing pat or making a hasty deadline deal and for that he deserves praise.  He could have easily have waited until the trade deadline, but knew the time was ripe for a change.

With every good trade, however, there's always a down side--what you have to give up.  What the Caps gave up (some would say gave up on) was a potential second-line scoring threat.  Admittedly at times Fleischmann was more potential than threat.  But he did show more than just a flash (pun intended) of brilliance from the second line.  Don't forget the game winner he potted in overtime against the Thrashers this season.  But really, all we're left to wonder is what could have been.  In his three-plus seasons with the Caps, we've seen the best and worst of that potential.  He was even benched for a game and that may have been the last straw.  However, you're always afraid that what you give away will come back to bite you.  At least he will be in the Western Conference for the balance of the season.  I, for one, wish him the best.

Now for the upside. Scott Hannan is only a known commodity among fans who follow the entire NHL and scout every player. Well, here at the Power Play Point blog, we only try to give the big picture.  Hannan is a veteran of over 750 NHL games with both the Avalanche and the San Jose Sharks.  So he's experienced--always a good thing.  In his 10-plus years in the league, after his first season, he has missed at most 7 games in one season.  So he's durable--definitely a good thing given the situation.  Best of all--in all those seasons he has only finished a minus player twice.  So he knows how to keep his own end clean.  Sounds like a good match to me. 

The only possible dark cloud in this forecast is the decreased ability for the Caps to make a move come deadline time.  Scott Hannan's cap-hit is $4.5 million, nearly $2 million more than Fleischmann's cost.  But then, perhaps there will be no move come that time of the year.  As with most things in hockey and life, time will tell.  For a more in-depth analysis of the cap-hit cost of the trade, go here.

I can't get over the timing of the trade.  It couldn't be more perfect.  It's not too soon in the season, so it doesn't give off a sense of panic.  And it's not too late in the year, so the new acquisition has time to get used to how things are done on the team.  Perhaps McPhee has learned his lessons after playing near the fires that can be deadline deals.  In 2008, he scored big with Cristobal Huet.  In 2009, he stood pat and was crucified for it.  So last year, he dealt again and got: one injured defenseman (Milan Jurcina), one aging forward (Scott Walker), and one totally useless defenseman (Joe Corvo).  And we all know what happened with the other player that was acquired.  We need not go there.

I can't wait to see how Hannan makes an impact on the team.  Or what Bob Woods plans are for his use.  In any case, the Caps' chances for the Cup just got that much better.

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 16: Scott Hannan  of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the New York Islanders on October 16, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

VANCOUVER, CANADA - OCTOBER 26: Tanner Glass  of the Vancouver Canucks gets tied up along the boards by Scott Hannan  of the Colorado Avalanche during the second period in NHL action on October 26, 2010 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bruce Boudreau, juggler extraordinaire

There are many words that can be used to describe someone who has a talent for deftly arranging things, but the word "juggler" seems perfect for Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau.  This is especially apropos when you consider the very definition of the word.  Not to mention his resemblance to a certain famous performer who started out as a Vaudeville Juggler so many years ago.

1936:  American comedian W C Fields (1879 - 1946) plays itinerant medicine seller Professor Eustace McGargle, in the film 'Poppy', directed by A Edward Sutherland for Paramount.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) TORONTO, ON - JUNE 12:  Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitls accepts the Jack Adams Award on stage during the 2008 NHL Awards at the at the Elgin Theatre on June 12, 2008 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images for NHL)

Scary, huh? 

Seriously though, the Bruce's penchant for throwing out different line combinations--and getting a lot out of them--has been both a running gag and something to marvel at among Caps fans.  Why, I've seen line combinations this season (albeit briefly) that defied logic and yet have worked.  Especially on the special teams.  And (gasp) he's now tinkering with Ovechkin's natural positioning!  But hey, it's working so far.

Just for the sake of lightening his work load, here are some combinations I've come up with that perhaps even he hasn't thought of...yet.  Enjoy!

The "Has Matt" line--Matts Bradley Hendricks and Perreault--could be explosive when you least expect it to be!
"Marcus O. Highlight-reelius"  Marcus Johansson, OV and Semin--imagine the points MJ90 would put up centering these two!  Worth throwing a toga party for, I would say.
A Boyd and the Hands line--Gordon, DJ King and Ovechkin...hands can do so many things!
Books, er, Brooks Smart Alex(es)
Beauties and the Beast line--OV, Backstrom and Chimera
Crash and Burn--Knuble, Laich, and Chimera
A King and a Fehr (insert whichever center you want)
Flash Gordon (or El Gordo y La Flasha for the Hispanic community)
Czech out them Swedes!  (Fleischmann, Backstrom, and Johansson)
B. Laich Mike line--Laich, Marcus Johannson ("MJ"), and Knuble
The "Face Value" line--David Steckel, Matt Hendricks, and Boyd Gordon...three of the lowest salaries on the team, yet three important contributors.


No pressure, coach.  Keep up the good work!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Semin...Naturally! (reCap vs. Tampa Bay Lightning 11/26)

Not going to be much of a recap, I'm afraid.  You see Friday's my later-starting shift and I forgot that tonight's game started at 5 pm.  Lucky for me though I had one last break.  On that break I went to the Yahoo! NHL page and checked the score.  Very cool, at the time anyway.  Leading one nothing on a goal by John Carlson.  Who knew that would be all they need.  So the end of shift comes and I go to refresh the screen--BOOM, there it is!  One-nothing turned into FIVE-nothing just like that.  Unbelievably enough, as he did in his last game against the Lightning, Alex Semin scored another hat-trick.  I haven't seen this kind of mastery over this team since Peter Bondra.
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Right wing Peter Bondra #12 of the Tampa Bay Lightning controls the puck persued by left wing Vaclav Prospal #20 of the Washington Capitals during the NHL game at MCI Center on December 23, 2002 in Washington, D.C.  The Capitals won 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NHLI)



And not even a regular hat-trick but a natural hat trick...wish I could have seen it for myself as it doesn't happen all that often.  For those of you who either don't know or are fuzzy on the definition, a natural hat-trick is where a player scores three straight goals in a game.  Forget all the baloney sauce about all the goals having to come in the same period and all that--that doesn't matter.

So really the only thing left to find out was two things:

1. Would Varly get the shutout?  (Yes, I remembered to start him this time!)
2. If he didn't, would the Caps suffer from a late-game collapse and allow the Lightning to get close, possibly even force overtime?

I was actually pretty confident the Caps would at least hang on and win.  The shutout would have been, and was, a bonus.  Equally surprising, however was how a good team like the Lightning just plain got the stuffing beat out of them.  I don't mean stove-top either...mmmm, memories of yesterday....

Apparently John Erskine got himself another goal as well.  Talk about firing on all cylinders.

I'll leave the breakdown to my buds over at Behind the Goal Line, Red Line Station and Japers.  I didn't see any of the actual game so it would kind of ring hollow anyway.  I will say that I totally agree with Jonathan Warner who said in the postgame show on Federal News Radio that the Caps rise to the level of their opponent.  They knew they would be in for a tough one against one of the up-and-coming teams in the NHL.  So they took it to them--and never let up.  Let's hope this is a trend.
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 26: Alexander Semin  and Alex Ovechkin  of the Washington Capitals warm up before the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on November 26, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Batman and Robin?  Robin and Batman?  A dynamic duo nonetheless and with other members of the Hockey Justice League in the background (Flash Gordon and Aquaman perhaps?)

Next, we welcome the Hurricanes.  Gotta love division games.  Still can't make any promises yet, but things may be looking up...keeping fingers and other body parts crossed for the time being!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Tight One on Turkeyday Eve (reCap vs. CAROLINA HURRICANES 11/24)

Random ramblings from last night's win....

Brian Fahey earned the lowest amount of ice time for all Caps D-men...hmmm, I wonder why....But seriously, he did start the rush that led to the first goal and looked, meh, okay out there.  He could do with a few more games like this.  It'd be better for my nerves at least.

Would have been nice if Varlamov got the SO.  Except I opted not to start him on my fantasy team....you don't have to say it....it's already been done.

Speaking of Varly, though--what a return!  No lapses in concentration at all, the old lateral movement was back on display--his body language said it all.  If he can stay healthy all season and into the playoffs it will be fun to watch him and Michal Neuvirth play their game of "Can You Top This?"
BOSTON - OCTOBER 21: Semyon Varlamov  of the Washington Capitals skates against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on October 21, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Backstrom had a great night overall but that second goal was a thing of beauty.  He took a feed from Ovechkin in the corner, turned Tim Gleason into his personal pylon, then put a nice wrister past Peters.  Backstrom is scoring and Ovechkin is setting him up....I'm not worried, but one wonders if they're getting a couch trip.

Whaddya mean Ovechkin's not playing well?  He got all three assists didn't he?  And not all of them were the "bang, rebound, SCORE!" type, either.  See above for reference.  Folks, we have to get over this mindset that OV has to always be on pace for a 50-goal, 100-point season for the team to be successful.  Let's be thankful that he's learning that a captain can do other things (hitting, backchecking, yapping on the ice and on the bench) besides score to help his team.  So long as he is CONTRIBUTING, and the team is WINNING, there really isn't anything to fret about is there?  I realize there are those of you out there that do enjoy watching him make that red flashy thingy above the goal go crazy. To you I say this--while three goals in 11 games isn't going to impress anyone, is there any reason to think he won't start lighting it up again soon?   You're right, there is no reason.

Joe Corvo finished a minus 2 for the game.  All I have to say is this--if you're going to wear number 77 for any hockey team and you're a Blueliner, you better at least be awesome enough to match this legend.   Joe, awesome you are not...not even close.  That's why you were a non-factor in last year's playoffs.  That's why you're back in Carolina.

By contrast, Ian White was the only Carolina defenseman who finished on the good side of plus-minus.  Mike Vogel commented on the PreCap podcast before the game that this was a pretty good pickup in the recent trade that they made with Calgary.  Based on what I've seen of White, Mike Vogel is correct.

Good to see Tom Poti back, mistakes and all.  At least none of them cost the Caps the game.  It'll all be worth it when he gets back into form.  more on this below...

John Erskine got saddled with a bad penalty that led to a tying goal late in the third.  I say "bad" because the call was bad.  While Erskine definitely tripped the Carolina player (sorry didn't catch who it was) once again, the offended player felt the need to embellish the act by impersonating someone being shot out of a cannon.  To those that ask, "How can it be a trip AND a dive?"  I point to situations like this.  This garbage has to be called more vigorously--it makes grown men look like sissies.

The Capitals won more faceoffs than they lost.  Always a good thing.  An even better thing is when the power play comes through when it needs to.  Once again, it's Brooks Laich creating havoc (and scoring chances) in front of the net.  Is someone trying to fill Mike Knuble's skates?

More from the M*A*S*H unit...Mike Green's injury necessitated Fahey's call-up.  This is getting harder to watch.  I know that somehow they're still winning games, but really--something needs to be done very soon to address the defensive depth issue.  This problem seems to me to be the more immediate dilemma--no team is lucky enough to completely avoid injuries.  This kind of thing has a way of piling up after a while and, come playoff time, could prove costly if they have to rely on AHLers--even if they are from Hershey.  Quality defensemen are always at a premium and therefore harder to obtain.  Which leads to the real problem--most likely a trade will need to be completed, so the question becomes "who do you give up?"

That's it from my end (as well as the rest of me.  Go ahead and do it, you know you want to).  Next up is a meeting with Mr. 19-in-19 himself, Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning...will probably do a follow up after that game.  After that, we'll see what happens...hopefully I won't have to go the way of a fellow Caps' blog.  Come back soon, we already miss you and your incredible work!  As always...good thoughts are a good thing...keep them coming.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 09:  Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals on the ice against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 9, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick, you're the number one star...that is who you are...keep this up and your team will go far!!!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all from The Blueliner On Point.  No speeches, just want to make sure you remember the thing you're most thankful for this day.  I know I will.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Playing catch-up as losses abound

I saw my team play as hard as they could...well, at least the last game anyway.  My own in-house correspondent, the ever-lovely Mrs. Blueliner, informed me that the Caps looked "flat" against the Thrashers last Friday night.  As I've said before, I don't particularly care to use that word because it tends to be used so much to describe when a team doesn't get the job done.  But...if that's how they looked to her, then so be it.  I don't take her observations lightly--having watched so many great Fighting Sioux teams in her native North Dakota, she knows good hockey when she sees it.

I didn't watch a minute of that game and only listened to a few minutes via radio.  Unfortunately, I just plain got home too late.  I caught that Braden Holtby had been chased out after a horrible first few minutes.  He apparently yielded three goals on five shots and, as is so often the case with the Bruce after such a bad opening he got "da Hook."  The rest is history--a 5-0 shutout loss that matched my mood as it had been just an awful week all around for me.  See my last post for more information if you're curious.

Last night's game against the Flyers, even though it was another loss, was at least much more entertaining.   I mean that was a back-and-forth classic.  I'm mustering all the optimism I can for this, but I saw some good things despite the loss.  The first of those was Marcus Johansson scoring the goal.  He has really stepped up his game lately.  Personally I think the time in Hershey did him some good.  Some have said that's where he should have started the season, but it's too late to get into that discussion again.  Tomas Fleischmann played a pretty decent game as well despite only getting an assist an finishing a minus one.  I know I had been defending him earlier, but lately I haven't been too impressed with him.  Hopefully he's gotten himself straightened out.

One thing that definitely hurt the Caps during that game was all the penalties.  Yes, they had a lot called against them.  Yes, a good number of them were at least questionable--Eric Fehr's boarding call especially. But yes, the rest of them were deserved.  Some in fact were the result of either carelessness (Semin's slashing penalty), recklessness (Brooks Laich's goalie interference call), or just plain lazy play (John Carlson's hook that resulted in a 5-on-3).  Fortunately, the Caps' penalty killing was terrific.  Unfortunately they were not perfect.  Not saying the PK lost them the game, but take away the one goal and you obviously get a different result.

I also liked how they came back after being down 3-1 and 4-3.  More deposits in the team's character bank account that they can withdraw from come playoff time.  I felt pretty good when the game went to OT.  That is, until Nicklas Backstrom got that interference penalty.  Now, do I think it was deserved?  Of course.  It was away from the play, and by definition, Backstrom had interfered with the ability of another player to react.  But the Flyer player who was interfered with (sorry I didn't catch who it was) acted like he had been shot when he went down.  Say what you want about the application of the diving penalty, but that was one clear instance where it was BOTH an interference call and a dive.  I think the NHL should seriously consider levying suspensions for such behavior.  I like soccer, but I don't want hockey to start becoming more like it with all that unnecessary garbage.  We just don't need it.

Somehow, both teams were kept from scoring.  Once again, the penalty kill had risen to the challenge.  I'm thinking even though it's a shootout--which I loathe--the Caps have a pretty good shot because it seemed like Neuvirth was peaking again.  Then that little rat Danny Briere managed a score followed by a Semin miss which ended the game.  Pfui.

So it's on to Jersey tomorrow then to Carolina on Turkey Day eve.  Can't say as I'm sure what this week will hold for the team.  I have to say the same for the rest of my life as well.  It's pretty much make-or-break time for me as I'll be figuring out my fate by week's end, not that I have much choice.  Like the Caps, I could either come out of it with some wins, or continue being on the down side.  And, like the Caps, you never know what the result will be in life but you know it'll be worth hanging in there for.  Just hope it's not a blowout loss like Friday for me.  Maybe I'll get the same results that the Caps seem to be headed for--I think the Caps will be okay.  I think they'll have a good showing against the Devils and give the 'Canes all they can handle.

As always, I'm full of hope.  I'm not sure when I'll be getting back on here, but it'll be soon.  Thanks as always for reading.

REFILE - CORRECTING TERMINOLOGY  Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby skates toward the bench as he looks at the scorebaord after allowing the third goal by the Atlanta Thrashers in the first period of their NHL hockey game in Atlanta, Georgia November 19, 2010.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)
Braden's looking upward for inspiration.  So am I.  For those of you that believe, keep your prayers going, it can only help.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

BANG! CRASH! BOUNCE! (reCap vs. ATLANTA THRASHERS, 11/14)

The Washington Capitals skated away with yet another win in a tough division game against the Thrashers tonight.  On an evening where we saw the puck careening around the ice like a magnetized pinball, goals seemed to come a bit too easy--on both sides.

The Thrashers came in looking to take advantage of yet another quirk in the schedule where the Caps were caught in a back-to-back game situation.  That's like what--the third time already this year?  And I see that they're due for another this week?  If I'm wrong or if anyone knows if any other team has had anything like that this season, please drop me a line.  In any case, it looked that the game plan, as Craig Laughlin pointed out later, was to jump ahead of the Thrashers and put the game away early so they could coast to the finish. 

To say the least, that strategy backfired.

After taking leads of 3-1 and 4-2 early in the second period, the Caps quickly found themselves even with the Thrashers.  This happened after the Caps seemed to stand around in their own end and watch the Thrashers get three goals in 9 minutes in the second period.  Indeed it looked as though the Caps put everything they had in the first period.  Lots of hitting, timely passes, a good amount of going to the net.  They even chased starter Chris Mason out of the net.  Glad to see Ondrej Pavelec back, by the way after that scary first night.  The best indicator of how the game was going to go, however was that first goal.

It's always good to see Alex Ovechkin open the scoring.  But usually he doesn't need much help, and certainly not from the other team.  I'm sure the video will be posted on YouTube before long, but if you have benefit of TiVo or any other DVR system, watch the replay.  Chris Mason actually pulls the puck into the net after it goes wide.  This was just the first of several weird goals produced by this game.  There was that stretch goal where Matt Hendricks reached out just enough to get to the puck and put it in the goal. 

Weirdest of all however, was Andrew Ladd's goal early in the first.  His initial shot got swallowed up in Michal Neuvirth's equipment, then somehow bounced upward, hit the top of his mask, then was tapped in by Ladd's high stick.  I say "high" because it was higher than normal.  Here again, where we got screwed "upon further review...."  The Toronto boys actually could have called it either way.  Mrs. Blueliner was convinced it was a no-goal, but I said that it was in Toronto's hands and therefore you know what will happen....sure enough--it counted.  But I still say you could make the case where Ladd's stick was just enough above the crossbar--illegal as defined by rule 80.3 in the Official Rules.

After that goal, the Caps just seemed flat.  Just out of it.  I'm not going to say "tired" because we've already discussed that that's just too easy.  Too many lazy plays inside their own end, too much carelessness with the puck everywhere else.  I'm not going to point fingers at any particular player because they ALL seemed out of it.  Of course it's easy to mention that OV's giveaway that led to the shorthanded goal.  But that was just one example.

There was something else really hard to understand, other than the sudden irrational physical capabilities of the puck. Why did the Caps seemed to be floundering after John Erskine put up one hell of a fight in what is sure to be one of the most-discussed brawls for some time?  The crowd gave Erskine a standing ovation after the fight, recognizing his efforts again Eric Boulton.  Those two traded shots for well over a minute and a half--forever in terms of hockey fighting.  It should have inspired the hell out of the rest of the guys as Erskine even earned a power play.  Somehow it didn't as Atlanta ended up tying the game shortly after, no pun intended.

The rest of the game wasn't really all that eventful until guess who rode to the rescue and gave the Caps the lead?  That's right--"Mr. Movember" himself, John Erskine.  Did it with one damn fine looking point shot too--and you know how I love seeing that.  One empty-net goal by David Steckel later and the game was iced.

I won't say that John Erskine single-handedly won the game for Caps tonight, but he had a huge hand in it. (Okay, wasn't intending a pun there, but...) By the basic stats he finished with a a goal (on his only shot, by the way), 5 PIM, and a plus 2.  One assist short of the ol' Gordie Howe hat-trick, and an all-around killer game.  Not bad for a defenseman that a lot of my fellow fans were saying was one of the biggest liabilities the Caps have.  Sure he has his moments where you wonder whether if he's playing tiddly-winks out there, but you have say that he's also proving his worth with every game.  Games like these are a reason why I believe he's finally rounding into a solid 5-6 defenseman--one that can be relied on.  Did anyone else notice the fact that he pretty much closed out the game?

Enjoy the moment, John, you've earned it...and keep up the good work.
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19: John Erskine  of the Washington Capitals clears the puck during the game against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on October 19, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)



By the way...the job search goes on, and on, and on...still looking for whatever ideas anyone might have.  And thanks to all those that have pushed my all time stats to over 1,000 page views.  I truly appreciate your time!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Enjoying Hockey, if nothing else---reCap vs. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Just some Administrative stuff to take care of before I get into the post....in a previous post I mentioned the Arthritis Foundation as a worthwhile cause.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that here in Maryland, my very own wife and ex-wife are also doing what they can for the cause.  They are both participating in the annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis this weekend.  More information can be viewed here and as always, donations are greatly appreciated.


"It wasn’t anything special.  I was just going out there and playing like I do every other game. Most important thing is for the team to win and that’s what happened tonight.”

--Alexander Semin after his 3-goal, five point night against the Lightning


So maybe that's the key.  Just keeping things simple and enjoying what you do.  And keeping the big picture in mind.  If only it were that easy.  The Washington Capitals certainly made it look that way last night.  Except for allowing an alarmingly high number of shots (41) they did almost everything else very well last night.

I usually try to find something they can improve upon.  Other than the obvious shot stats, for the life of me, I can't.  What impressed me most was their play in the 3rd--their body language said it all.  No panic and pure enjoyment in what they were doing.  Especially Semin.

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 13: Alexander Semin  of the Washington Capitals skates against the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center on October 13, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For those familiar with advanced hockey statistics, this didn't exactly make their Fenwick and Corsi numbers look too good either.  But there's no need for me to get into that when more astute observers such as Japers Rink and Red Line Station do it so much better than I can.  No sarcasm at all, just telling the truth. Red Army Line already covered this as well, but Teddy Purcell is a beast. Watch for him, he'll be a star.


But did they get down after falling behind, pulling ahead, then allowing the Lightning back in it?  Nope.  Not even after losing Boyd Gordon, a unheralded yet valuable contributor to the team's success.  That's probably the characteristic I like most about this team so far this year--you just know that, no matter what, they have a legitimate chance to win the game.

Lately, the Caps have been relying on the sublime talents of one Alexander Semin to pull ahead and stay ahead in their games.  However, if you look at the list of game winning goals for the team you will see that in their 12 wins, eight different Capitals have game-winners.  That means they don't necessarily have to have their first line (or whoever's on it at the time) bail them out when they fall into their nasty habit of falling behind.  This is never a bad thing.

So why all the sunshine, lollipops, and roses from me?  Well it's because I have to have something to be happy about and why not my hockey team?  After all they are at the top of the standings, just as they were for most of last year.  Yes I do happen to remember that it ended up not meaning much come April.  But you have to admit that, as much as my fellow fans and I have been worried about this team getting it done, they have been...well...getting it done.  So, for now anyway, there may not be much to worry about after all.

And here is where I will go into the hellacious reality that is my own life.  I have to announce that I may have to cut back on my workload here at the Powerplay Point because of a profound change in my schedule.  My night job of delivering news materials has decided to end its run, certainly not by my choice.  This is forcing me to figure out how to replace that income.  Without going into too many details, that will probably mean more hours of me doing whatever work I can find (no thanks to our still rotten economy) instead of following my team.  In turn, I won't be able to spend as much time on the blog.  I'm going to do my best to at least pop in maybe once a week or something like that, but until I know what's going to happen I can't promise anything.  I will make a concerted effort to stay involved, though.

Of course, there are far more important concerns for me than maintaining a blog.  I won't lie and try to convince anybody that I'm not just plain scared about how I'll be able to keep paying the bills. Not going to wallow in self-pity (at least not here anyway), but if anyone reading this has any ideas, can help in some way, or knows someone who can, I would greatly appreciate hearing about it through the comments at the bottom.  Basically I'm looking for any overnight work in the Baltimore area. I've already begun looking myself and I'm hoping that it might just work out one way or another, but the more minds and hearts help me on this one the better I'll feel about it.  Thanks for reading and I do appreciate your allowing me to vent.  Continue to Rock the Red, my fellow Caps fans and I'll be in touch....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

reCap vs. NEW YORK RANGERS 11/9

Shots from the Power Play Point......

No, I didn't see the fight, so don't ask.

Tyler Sloan needs to realize that he holds a hockey stick, not a Swiffer.

Neuvirth looked, errr, spooked by the Boogey Man.  It was a great shot to be sure, but Neuvy ought to be kicking himself for letting that one get past him.  Give an assist to Mr. Sloan.

Speaking of Sloan, some of the folks over at Japers during the game thread were calling for the return of Brian Fahey.  Uhhhh, what's that word that doesn't mean yes?  That would be NO.

The "Henergy" line gets one in to win it!  A Matt-to-Matt pass for the win!

Brooks Laich opens the scoring for the boys in Red and then ices it with an empty netter.  Brooksie was probably the best overall player out there.  Good to see whatever had him on the bench late Sunday isn't permanent.

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 08: Brooks Laich  of the Washington Capitals against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on October 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)


Nice shooting, Rangers!  Tortorella may have won a Cup...years ago...but he needs to teach his team how to get it on net--not above, not around, but ON net.

Apparently, Torts was having a coronary after the first penalty call.  Fine...keep your cardiologist in business.

My poor goalie...no, not Neuvy.  Lundquist.  He's on my fantasy team.  Personally I was hoping for a 2-1 win with Eric Fehr getting at least one.  Oh well, at least Andrei Markov finally made it back--and scored!

The good people at Versus oh they keep a-tryin'.  And they keep a-failin'.  They did an isolation shot on Caps' assistant coach Dean Evason.  Only problem was the graphic spelled his name "Evanson."  Hey Versus, in case you haven't heard, check this.  No pressure, folks, but you might want to try a wee bit harder.

Another close one, another win.  Love how they're pullling out the close ones...not loving the D corps getting sloppy at times.  Might be time to shore up the defense, or else things might look like this:
FLEETWOOD, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  (EDITORS NOTE: THIS IMAGE WAS CONVERTED FROM COLOUR ORIGINAL)  The rotting hulks of old boats decay in the sands  of Fleetwood Marshes on July 27, 2009 in Fleetwood, England. Seven boats have been rusting and rotting away on the banks of the River Wyre since the 60's and 70's. Some are the remnants of fishing boats and others, according to locals, are the skeletons of whaling boats after the practice was banned in the 1970's.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

And we DEFINITELY don't want that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

HOLD 'EM HOLTBY! (reCap vs. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS 11/7)

Kinda late this Monday night and I find myself pressed for time.  I'm one game behind in the blog and I'm none too happy about it.  I meant to post something right after the game last night but I just blew it...I guess I'm starting to feel like the old guy I used to make fun of a lot.

In any case I'm going to keep this one short and simple. Or will I?  Okay how about short and complicated...kinda like...well, we won't go there.

I liked and didn't like some things I saw in the game last night.  Here's the rundown as I saw it:

Liked:

Braden Holtby's eventual confidence, and his big saves. 

Both Alex Semin and Mike Green continuing their streaks--and their timely scoring.

The Boyd Gordon Streak lives!

Alex Semin dogging for the puck at BOTH ends of the ice.

All D.C. faceoff takers had a collective 57% win rate.

Nikolay Zherdev getting a goal (I know, I know, but he's on my fantasy team!)

Eric Fehr's wrist shot--let's see more of that.  Kinda hard to score sitting down...if you know what I mean!

Didn't like:

Braden Holtby's tendency to be wayyyyyyy out in front.  He's lucky he never got caught out of position.

Mike Knuble's drought goes into its 12th damn game.

No D.J. King in the lineup.  Would have loved to see him pound the heck out of Dan Carcillo.

Another poor defensive showing for David Steckel, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson--all minus 1 each!

Brooks Laich writing his memoirs as an Invisible Man in the third.  To be fair he is reported to be injured.

The Caps' overall play in the 3rd.  That ice was tilted, and not because it was sloppy, either.

Not much physical play.  If this was 15 years ago, there would have been a brawl after the opening faceoff.


Not to cause a (backup) goaltending controversy, but could it be that we're now pretty much set in goal?  Semyon Varlamov has spent more time with his physical therapist than with his equipment bag this year.  This keeps up and he'll be riding the bus again--or worse.  Holtby's done very well for himself in his two games; enough to earn the backup spot after being handed it by default.  There's a lot of that "goalie-who-came-out-of-nowhere-and-does-well" going on this year and he's just the latest success story.  I'm not saying he's ready for regular duty, but he's obviously aced his first NHL test.

I listened to Japers Rink radio this morning and Russell brought up a pretty good point.  The Caps have been great at winning games in overtime and on the power play.  Five-on-five?  In regulation?  Not so much.  They haven't played Buffalo Sabres-awful, but there is room for improvement.  Last night was yet another OT win, and it's always good to win in a pressure situation.  But you have to wonder what it is about this team that they have to be up against it to come out firing on all cylinders.

Case in point--last night they gave up the first goal...again.  Maybe I'm used to seeing this team run away with it from the off.  But no matter the end result, you never want to see your team start off poorly.  This is still another bad habit I feel they need to nip in the bud before next spring.  Sure they held one of the league's highest scoring teams to two goals, but how much of that was fatigue?  And how much of that was Holtby standing on his head?  They should have dominated this game.  They ended up lucky not to lose.

I'll end on this note, and it's something I've said before.  I'm happy for the win, but there's much that still needs work.  Whether it's been Holtby or Michal Neuvirth, the Caps have been the beneficiaries of stellar goaltending.  You can ride good goaltending all the way to the Cup if necessary, but the best teams get that way simply by playing like they are the best teams.  The standings points may say otherwise, but this team is still far from being at their best.  Fortunately for them, the right time to be at their best is over six months away.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A WIN THAT WAS IN...THE CARDS (vs BOSTON BRUINS 11/5)

I would like to say that I'm about to go into one of my usual, sort-of nonsensical (to some of my friends anyway) post-game rant.  I would like to say that but I can't and I'll explain why.

First off let me once again apologize for the lateness of this post...just more of that thing called life getting in the way again.  This past Friday night, a longtime friend of mine flew in from Arizona (also a Coyotes fan) to host a charity poker tournament for a pretty good cause.  That cause was the Arthritis Foundation, specifically the New York chapter.  The host was my friend Pete whose sister Barbara was set to run the New York City Marathon today.  That is, until she found out she had an injury and won't be able to run.  Here's hoping she heals very soon.  Both Pete and his wife Alison were diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis early in their childhoods, so obviously this is a cause that's important to them as well as their families.  Without going into any long stories, I consider Pete family because we've been friends since 3rd grade.


****Shameless plug alert!****  If you want to know more about this worthwhile cause, please go here.


Pete's younger sister Katherine (Kat) also helped out with the fundraiser.  It was a good thing she had a lot of her friends there to spell off us grumpy old men!  Mrs. Blueliner and I both were there along with my ex, the former Mrs. Blueliner (someday I'll tell you the story, but not here!) and a lot of old friends of mine from school. Anyway, a great time was had by all, we raised a good amount of money--enough to push the amount raised so far over $8,000.  And yours truly ended up the night's big wiener, errr, winner.  Check out my prize below, and before you laugh, keep in mind I am from Baltimore!


Ahh, the days when the Orioles were actually, you know...good.

Now what does all this have to with hockey you ask?  Well I mentioned that some of Kat's friends were there and some of them just happen to be Caps fans.  In fact when I got there, without me asking him to, Pete grabbed the remote and flipped on Comcast just in time for the first period faceoff.  Niiiiiiice.  Who needs a sports bar?  So in between hands I could watch the game, great!

First period goes by and not much is happening.  Other than Matt Hendricks got into another fight, this time with some guy I never heard of named Adam McQuaid.  Okay well, so far so good--for the Caps anyway.  Me?  I was losing pretty badly--to my ex.  What's the saying?  Unlucky at love, unlucky at cards?  Mrs. Blueliner of course thought all this was hilarious.  But I hung in there.  Caps got in eight shots against Mr. Unbeatable, Tim Thomas the Tank Engine with some decent chances.  All in all, not too bad.

Second period begins and I've still got my big chips in play.  A minute in who should score but Tyler Sloan.  All the Caps fans in the room give a yell at seeing this--Thomas finally gets solved first.  I'm slowly but surely making my way back, winning back a handful of all the white chips I lost after a losing streak of oh about...an hour.  Guess I was taking the Bret Maverick approach to winning at poker.  Minutes later Mike Green buries one of patented wicked wristers from the high slot to make it 2-0.  Ten minutes after that, Alex Semin played back and forth with Green and knocked one home shorthanded to keep his good run going.  Nice fist pound into the ice to celebrate.  So now it's 3-0 after two and I'm thinking we're rolling because I'm also starting to win some hands. 

But then things got sloppy.  This despite the fact that the previously unbeatable Thomas was now a spectator.  The Caps were called for multiple penalties near the beginning and just plain got caught not keeping up the intensity after that.  It's a problem that's plagued them in the past and they know it. Every time I looked up the Bruins were putting one in past Neuvirth, who looked like he was floundering more than a little bit.  Funny thing of it all was, now I was only one of two people left at my table, the other being Pete's friend Bryan (hope I spelled that right, dude).  The ex had been eliminated a half hour before.  Now if only we were playing for REAL money!

So it's 3 all and I'm in despair..for my team anyway.  Our hopes for the game now ride on never-tested Braden Holtby.  First time I had seen BOTH starting goalies get the hook in a long time.  Ten minutes left in the game anything can happen.  The poker game kinda slowed down a bit because both Bryan and I were distracted by the game on the screen.  But it wasn't too long when John Carlson wristed one home from the point (love that guy!) off a Boyd Gordon faceoff win and an alert tip pass by Eric Fehr.  I'm clapping my hands and shouting with at least a dozen others in the house and I'm loving it.

So we try to finish up our game, going back and forth for about a dozen hands.  We tried everything--upping the minimum bet, the ante, wild cards, but we still couldn't get a clear winner.  Whenever one of of us would be close, the other player would come up with a winning hand in a big pot at just the right time.  I ended up winning when we decided to do a high-card-wins, winner-take-all final hand.  But not before the last few tense seconds ticked off as Ovechkin iced it with an empty-netter.  Bryan had shuffled the deck and cut it into three piles.  I drew a king, he drew a jack and the card in the other pile was an ace!  Now all there was to do was face the winner of the other table.

So I'm relieved and happy about the game on the ice, albeit with reservations.  More on this later.  But now I'm like geez, I could win this tournament.  I'm an average poker player at best, so this was something of a surprise.  Well, it was getting late and Kat's friends were looking to head over to the local bar.  So my old friend Cory, who was a year behind me in school, turned out to be the winner at the other table. I wish I had a picture of him, he's only a year younger than me yet still looks like he just stepped out of his high school yearbook photo.  To save time, we did another high-card-wins, for the tournament win.  I think I drew an ace and whatever Cory's card was it wasn't close.  I was in a mild shock...I had lots of fun all for a very good cause.

So we all said our goodbyes and Cory and I stuck around to clean up.  In the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think, "man, they blew a three-goal lead but still won."  It's a good thing to win no matter what, but the focus is still on the how, not just the end result.  This is a habit they've gotten themselves in many times, and many times it has gotten them into big trouble.  I would have hoped that they would have learned by now not to just pack it in when they build a big lead.  On the other hand, it is good to see the two things that I saw in the swatches of the action I did see:

1. Braden Holtby held his own in a dangerous situation and coming in cold
2. The Capitals had the fortitude to knuckle down, play smart hockey, and get the tough goal

This is one of those "glass half-full vs. glass half-empty" debates you could have.  Kinda like the poker tourney win I had.  (I won...but it wasn't real money...but I had fun for a good cause.)   They did get the "W" in the end, but the hope is that they also took away a valuable lesson in winning.  I'm going to be something of an optimist and count on the fact that they did indeed learn something.  I know I did.  Never give up on a hand as long as there's cards left to play.  Make of that what you will.

One last not-so-shameless plug here.  Barbara is continuing to collect donations for the Arthritis Foundation despite her injury.  If you know someone with Arthritis, and the chances are very good that you do, please do what you can to donate to this worthwhile cause.  Barbara's goal is $10,000 and if you go here you will see that's she's pretty close.  Help her out and give to this wonderful cause...trust me, we will all be feeling better for it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

reCap vs TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS 11/3

Pressed for time and sleep once again, so we're doing it rapid-fire...I call it "Blueliner's One-Liners"



The power play goal  I noticed some members of the #2 unit were on board with the number 1 unit...goes to show that sometimes having a bit of #2 isn't so bad sometimes.

Backstrom missed a yawning net---UUURRRRRGGGGGGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!  Did a massive facepalm on this one!

Waaaaaaayyyyy too many neutral zone turnovers, again...and again, and again, and......

Great to see Chimera get on the board--speed truly does kill.

Neuvy looked human on a couple of those goals...might be time to rest him.

Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom with....errr Matt Bradley?

Hoping to see the Boyd Gordon Streak continue, and we did.

Gotta say Mike Green looked pretty good at both ends of the ice tonight.

Tying goal--great shot by Semin, but the real genius was Brooks Laich causing havoc in front--lesson learned--we can only hope.

Well...hadn't seen a shootout win yet so why not?  They've won practically every other way.

Tomas Fleischmann did a great impression of a decoy...and ended up scoring one of the times he was playing "totem pole!" 

So it goes to show...if you can't actually DO something to get the result...ACT like it and it might just happen!

Alexander Semin....he's a goat, no he's a hero, no he's...ahh, just give him another Palm certificate and let him eat royally tonight!

And the line of the night?  "Up Yours!" by Alan May during the Comcast post-game wrap up.

One more shot--I mentioned number two earlier...it's too bad that Comcast feels the necessity to interweave the Redskins mess during what is SUPPOSED to be the CAPS post game show.  Just saying.

Mike Green (52) of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson for a goal as Maple Leafs' Francois Beauchemin (L) arrives too late to stop the shot during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Washington November 3, 2010. REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

Had a good choice of pics, but I chose this one, because well, it's a Blueliner blog and the pic features a darn fine blueliner.

Another two points in the bank account...marching towards the playoffs.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

BEFORE ENTERING NOVEMBER, A MONTH TO REMEMBER...sort of

So ends the first month of the 2010-11 NHL season.  Standings-wise things aren't exactly where we thought they'd be.  But they surely could be a lot worse...just ask the New Jersey Devils.  But things with the Caps still aren't quite where most of us figured they would around this time.  I've followed this team for over 30 years and I've learned one thing about them, no matter who wears the uniforms--expect a lot of twists and turns.

Case in point--looking at last year's playoffs we all thought that one weakness the Caps would never shake was their gosh-awful penalty killing, right?  Well look at them now!  Perfect in their first five games, then stumbled badly in the home-and-home against Boston, but have since recovered well enough to place fourth in the league.  Their kill success rate is a stunning 90.2 percent, far better than the 78.8 rate turned in last season.  The key has been the new strategy of forcing the play and rotating the units out after short shifts.  Faceoff artist David Steckel and sparkplug Matt Hendricks have been part of the new found success.

Now for the flip side.  The one thing we could count on from this team was their offense and, on top of that, their murderous power play.  The offense has has two truly great games where it took over, but has otherwise either sputtered or looked very ordinary at times.  Mike Knuble in particular hasn't been playing particularly well and is now spending time off the top line.  His net presence, especially on the power play, is part of what this team needs to regain its offensive dominance.

Speaking of the power play, they are now firing at a lethargic clip of 16.7 percent, good enough for the exact middle of the NHL pack.  If you can believe it, this is actually better than how they started the year, failing to score at all in the first several games.  The recent explosion in Calgary is hopefully a preview of coming attractions.  Truly it is a wonderful thing to see Alex Ovechkin bury two with the man advantage in under a quarter of a minute.

All of this adds up to one heck of an identity crisis for a team known last year as the offensive terrors of the league.  But is this a bad thing?  I say it doesn't have to be.  We as Caps fans seem to all be agreed that how they win is just as important as if they win.  In their seven wins this year we've seen variety fit for multiple personalities:

--Two blowout victories, one against New Jersey, the other against Calgary.
--A back-and-forth nail biter capped by an OT goal from Tomas Fleischmann against Atlanta.
--Alex Ovechkin plays one of the worst games of his career against Ottawa, yet wins the game in OT.
--A lucky shot win off Nick Backstrom's skate against the Islanders with time dwindling in the game.
--Sleepwalking through 30 plus minutes against Nashville only to come from behind and win again in OT.

and of course...

--Their best and most complete effort thus far, a 60-minute masterpiece against Carolina in the Canes' home opener.  Michal Neuvirth shines brightest, turning back everything for his first career shutout.

In only two of those seven wins did they overpower their foes with their vaunted offense.  The rest can be chalked up to solid penalty killing, timely goals, surprisingly above-average defensive play at times and, above all, world-class goaltending.  So have they proven that they don't need their offense to spot them a huge lead from the off?  Maybe not yet, maybe it's too early to tell, but the body of work seems to point towards that conclusion.  While the offense hasn't been consistent, there has been one element to the Caps efforts that has been.  Something that has served as an anchor, no matter how badly some games might have gone.

Which brings us to who I believe to be their best overall player--Michal Neuvirth.  It's no coincidence that he has been named rookie of the month for October.  He's not a forceful presence like Olie Kolzig was, nor is he overly flashy, but his consistently stellar play and calm demeanor in net has gotten the job done.  Game in, game out, win or lose, the Caps seem to have grown very comfortable and confident with him in goal.

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 11: Michal Neuvirth  of the Washington Capitals makes a save against Chris Kelly  of the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on October 11, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Let me take this opportunity to make a complaint.  If you go over to Japers Rink you can take a look at the Caps' roster which includes a scouting report on each player.  Without going into too much detail here, let me just say that I completely disagree with whoever at SB Nation wrote the report on Neuvirth .  I can't say as I can understand what they're talking about when they discuss  his "flaws."

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 02: Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Washington Capitals looks on prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on January 2, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings defeated the Capitals 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Perhaps the first 10 games in a season is still a bit early to anoint a player as one of the league's best and a team's most valuable player.  Maybe that's what they meant by "work in progress."  But combine his performance this year with the pedigree he's built in the AHL and his results from last year with the big club and I say there's cause to believe that Neuvirth has finally arrived.  In the shaky environment that Caps' hockey can be sometimes, he's been their steadiest performer--the only constant.  He gives them a chance to win every night and honestly what more can you ask on this team?  If he can keep this up, and there's no reason to think that he can't, there just might be something to celebrate at the end of the year.

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 13: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth  of the Washington Capitals in action against the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center on October 13, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


Meanwhile, the rest of the team's overall play will round out.  I'm optimistic, but only guardedly so.  There are still a few questions to answer, mainly involving team depth.  The Caps are already having to weather a storm of injuries that have called that depth into question.  Something will need to be done to address that. This something needs to be done sooner rather than later, if only for the sake of chemistry.  A little bit of better health and a lot more consistency should be the recipe that carries this team to another division title and hopefully more success in the playoffs.

One month, seven wins.  Five months to get to April and the playoffs.  About forty more wins should do the job.  This is a team that can do it.  They just need to make it happen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

reCap 10/30 vs CALGARY FLAMES

Whatever this team ate or drank in Calgary, can I get it to go?

After an admittedly subpar effort and result in Minnesota on Thursday, the Caps came into Calgary on a busy Saturday hoping to regain something of their form from last year.  I was just hoping we would see the team that won against Carolina on Wednesday.  Well, this being Halloween we got the treat and almost a trick...by Alex Ovechkin no less.   Two goals by the Captain and both came on the power play!  Thirteen (some said twelve) seconds apart! I'm not ready to pronounce this team or the power play as "back" but certainly one Captain Ovechkin is on his game again.

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin celebrates his first goal during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. Ovechkin came back to score another goal just moments later. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



Something else I was pleasantly surprised to see was Michal Neuvirth back in net.  With Semyon Varlamov out (still) on IR, Neuvy got his ninth start and his 10th game appearance.  Does "Neuvirth" translate into "workhorse" in Czech?  He's played in all but one of the 11 games so far and looks like he's not slowing down any time soon.  Have we found the heir to Olie Kolzig?  I'm hoping so.  I'm also hoping he doesn't get overused...I know he's got a lot of energy, but too many games between now and April and he'll be burnt out for the playoffs.  For this game, though, it was another masterful performance, 27 saves on 29 shots.

Calgary Flames' Alex Tanguay (L) slides into Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



So how about that second period?  Unreal.  They get one at the end of the first and torched the Flames for six in the next period.  That is what some folks would call a turkey shoot.  Yes I know...wrong holiday.  But hey, this from the country that has Christmas sales in September....

Something I saw that makes me believe in hockey karma...well, two things actually.  First, the Matt Bradley goal.  No, not because of the fluky way it went in although that was an amazing sight.  It was because Cory Sarich put it in his own net.  I will explain...

A couple of minutes earlier Sarich laid a hit on David Steckel in the offensive zone.  The hit was to say the least, questionable.  It was to say the most, illegal.  Or it is by my understanding of this renewed crusade of eliminating blindside hits anyway.  Steckel had just released the puck and actually had his back turned to the Flames goal.  Depending on the angle you could say that he either came in from the side or from behind.  Either way it is a "blindside" hit--the same one that everybody's gotten their popcorn in a knob about lately.  So why wasn't a penalty called?   The lead referee on the play even had a good view of it and did nothing. Thank goodness Steckel didn't seem to be too shaken up from it.  I don't know, maybe I'm wrong but it sure looked like a blindside hit to me.

In any case the second thing that happened was that David Steckel scored....WHAT?  David Steckel scored? Yes, David Steckel scored.  On a penalty shot, no less.  He stole the puck while killing a penalty and tore up the ice on a breakaway...WHAT?  David Steckel got a breakaway?  Yes, now stop that, darn it!    He was subsequently hauled down from behind and was awarded a penalty shot, which he promptly converted.  Appropriately enough, he roofed it and made the ol' water bottle do a dance against the Flames' backup goalie, Henrik Karlsson.  Appropriate because the Flames were pretty much doused by then anyway.  While it was a pretty goal to be sure, Steckel was certainly helped by the fact that Karlsson for some reason did a ROTF routine when the shot was taken.  Joe B and Locker even pointed out that he did the same thing in an earlier game against Colorado--and got burned then too.

Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano (L) tries to stop Washington Capitals' David Steckel during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



Really after that there wasn't much to do but sit through the third and hope the game wouldn't deteriorate into a giant brawl, which thankfully it didn't.  I'm just wondering who got the "hard hat" award after the game in the Caps' locker room?  My money is on Matt Bradley for his goal or Mike Green for scoring in his backyard. 

Now it is fun to see the Caps win this way, but it's good to know that they can now also win the close, tight-checking games when the offense isn't so explosive.  They proved that in Carolina.  They proved they can win their regular way in Calgary.  Put them together and how dangerous could this team be?  I've said it before and it's still true--the regular season is a breeding ground for a team's character.  Character which the Caps' critics said that they lack.  You answer those critics by showing them you can get it done in any type of game.  So with one month behind us, let's see them plow ahead and just win, no matter what gets thrown at them--the great teams always find a way.


.....and now for some fun!


I'm not sure what Alex Semin is trying to do here but, I know you don't get always get the puck by begging for it.

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backland (L) takes the puck away from Washington Capitals' Alexander Semin during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


Hmm, looks like Jarome Iginla is taking the concept of "crash the net" a step further?  Or maybe he thinks if he can hide from his coach he won't get called out again!



Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) falls on top of Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


And finally, you can say whatever you want about Alex Ovechkin, but you have to hand it to him, he always finds a way to get past the defense.  Or maybe he's just "hoppy" to be there.




Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (R) jumps over Calgary Flames' Robyn Regehr during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


Next up, it's back to the Verizon Center where they will host the Leafs on Wednesday.  Maybe Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry will wear something special for the occasion.  Warm up the highlight reel, Grapes, this one should be a beauty!




DETROIT - MAY 31:  Hockey analyst Don Cherry reports prior tp the the Pittsburgh Penguins playing the Detroit Red Wings during Game Two of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on May 31, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

reCap vs. MINNESOTA WILD 10/28

From a pretty good high...and back to earth again.  If this team's players were all in a spelling bee and the word "consistency" came up, they would ALL get it wrong.  Forget about the fact that it was the second game on the second night of a road trip.  The Bruce doesn't buy that excuse and neither do I.  The Swordmaiden, Katie Carrera, seemed to think that was the reason for the loss according to the article in the rag, er, Washington Post, but I don't share that line of thinking.  It's too easy an excuse.  A good team simply owns up when they don't play well.

What blew me away was when I read the breakdown at Japers.  They pointed out that nobody outside the top line so much as fired a shot on goal until the third period.  You don't win games if you only bring a six shooter when your opponent has a machine gun.  Yes I know they outshot them on paper--who cares?  Twenty-two shots doesn't cut it, not against any goalie worthy of his waffle-board. Matthieu Perreault was the one who got that shot, and I'll even take him to task--this is the kind of game where he needed to show that spark that gets teams going and it just wasn't there.

Special teams didn't help--the power play was anemic, although it made some noise with some great chances.  More on this later.  The penalty kill was decent, except when they gave up the eventual game winning goal.


Backstrom v. Backstrom

Perhaps the greatest chance was in the second period when the Caps had one of their two power plays.  They were cycling the puck fairly well when Nicklas Backstrom lined up for a one-timer against Niklas Backstrom.  Backstrom seemed to have the shot ready to go but Backstrom had the angle.  All this happened in the blink of an eye, but you could see it all play out as Backstrom tried to put it by Backstrom.  Backstrom could have possibly tried a backhand shot or perhaps a backdoor play on Backstrom, but instead opted for the backup plan and just shot up high glove side.  Backstrom, however was ready for the shot and only needed to back up a foot as he reached back and got it with the glove hand.  All those confused?  Yeah me too...and I'm writing this thing.

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 14: Niklas Backstrom  of the Minnesota Wild blocks a shot by the Edmonton Oilers in the third period during their game on October 14, 2010 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)


BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 29: Nicklas Backstrom  of the Washington Capitals in the third period against the Boston Bruins on September 29, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Capitals defeated the Bruins 4-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)


But seriously Niklas Backstrom the goalie had a terrific game in net and should be credited for his efforts.  By the same token, however,  you can't make the excuse of a hot goalie because you should always make the most of your chances.  Had the Caps done so, the score just might have been different because they have a hot goalie of their own.  Michal Neuvirth has proven himself to be the best player on the ice from game to game.  If only the rest of the team could find a way to produce like that.

I'm not happy with the loss, but I would be more okay with it if my team had put out a better effort.  I didn't see that for pretty much the whole game.  There's one game left on this road trip and it's up against an equally challenging Calgary Flames team.  Mike Green will be in front of his hometown crowd and Ovechkin is officially off Der Schnide with his late-game tally.  Need the points boys, it will make life in April a little easier.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

reCap vs. CAROLINA HURRICANES 10/27

This team just keeps on showing me new things every game.  I guess you can teach a (not so) old dog new tricks.  Just hope there are many more like this.

And by like this I mean a complete and total solid effort at both ends of the ice from beginning to end, top to bottom.  Nick Backstrom's two goals and Michal Neuvirth's 29-save masterpiece certainly led the way.  Got to give props to the whole team, however, and I want to point out some great individual efforts within that:

Matt Hendricks--opened the scoring and got what turned out to be the game winner.  Equally as important is how he got it--by working hard and positioning himself just right.  This is why he belongs on the team.

Mike Green--was quite literally all over the ice.  The idiot statisticians in Carolina forgot to credit him with at least a couple of hits that I saw him pick up.  No matter.  Finished at +1 and was probably the best defenseman on the ice, the only blemish on his game being a questionable penalty at the end.  Oh and that wipeout and subsequent penalty after that, but still....

John Erskine--played not only his usual tough game but also played smartly as well.  Kept his game simple and effective. 1 A and +1.  Here's hoping he can put together more games like this.

David Steckel--won his usual compliment of faceoffs and his gritty play in front of the net helped set up the game winner.  Finally looks like he's ready to play.

Mike Knuble--Cam Ward got to know his face...and his other body parts because he spent as much time as he could camped out in front of his net.  As a result, he collected 2 A and looks to be back on his game again.

Jeff Schultz--Sergeant Steady continues to quietly keep things clean in his end, racking up another +2 in his bank account and even getting a couple shots on net.  Is proving to be the perfect compliment to Mike Green's offensive style.

I can't think of any Cap that had a really bad game.  If I was disappointed in anything I had figured that this game would have a lot more hitting in it.  Not that it was completely missing, but games against Carolina are always intense.  This one...not so much.  It wouldn't have mattered, though.  Come to think of it, Ovechkin did have that boarding penalty--not exactly one of his finer moments.  Funny how Carolina could have used that as a rallying point but did not.

So what do we take away from this game?  Something very important.  THIS is how you win the type of game that is often played in the playoffs--close, tight games with a fair amount of scoring chances at both ends.  Chances are if you can consistently play and win this type of game, you can go far in the playoffs.  Both Chicago and Philadelphia proved that last year.  The Caps didn't overwhelm anybody with their talent and their offensive game--and they didn't have to.  Most importantly, Neuvirth was there every single time he needed to be.  I still like this guy's demeanor--I have no idea why part of the knock on him is that he doesn't look like he's mentally into the game.  Neuvy is focused and motivated, and he doesn't need to hit you over the head with that.

Hard work leading to gritty goals, solid defense, good puck movement, and flawless goaltending.  I was never too nervous about the game looking at this team, they just looked so in control.  Oh yeah, the penalty kill was perfect again.  Solid game from beginning to end.

Sounds like a winner to me.  Keep it up, gents!

ROCK THE ROLLER COASTER

My apologies for not being on in a while...couldn't even get to the computer for a plethora of different reasons.  None of those are worth going on about here.

Not that I could figure out what I was going to say anyway.  What DO you say after a pair of losses where you can question just about everything your team does?  It wouldn't be inaccurate at all to say that, yes, Tim Thomas played two fantastic games in net for the Bruins.  He wasn't quite a one-man band but I'm sure quite a few of his stops will make the highlight reel. 

Not that it's a legitimate excuse in the eyes of the big boss himself, Ted Leonsis.  In one of his recent Ted's Take posts, he took himself and the team to task for not producing a better result.  And he explicitly said that the "hot goalie" excuse was no longer valid.  Good for him, I say.  You can't take away what Thomas did, but the team's overall performance still left a lot to be desired.  I'm sure that's what Mr. Leonsis was getting at.  Average team indeed.  Yes I would say that is an accurate assessment.

Let me mention something else, I'm damn glad the Caps won last night.  You always want a win to come with the team playing "their" game, but a win is still a win.  Only thing was, it took quite a bit just to get to that win.  Last year, this dominated their opponents with an overwhelming offense.  This year, well, it's more like they're "gutting it out" for wins--reaching deep down late in games to pull it out.  Winning games like this will pay dividends later on in the year.  It will also accelerate the learning curve of the rookies and younger guys who will learn form that experience exactly what it takes to win in clutch situations.  As great as some Caps teams were over the last three decades, none of them displayed this much in terms of character--something that carries as much value as talent.

I will dispense with my usual recap of last night's game and instead tackle several points I think are important:

Mike Green was a surprise lineup addition to the game, but it soon became apparent that he was going to see very limited duty.  When he hopped over the boards for the team's first power play, it was a nice thing to see.  Mrs. Blueliner pointed out within a few seconds that Green was obviously not 100%.  I asked her how she could tell.  She said because he wasn't shooting.  Sure enough he never once let go his patented point shot.  Maybe once or twice he did the walk-in-and-fling-a-wrister, but no real hard shot. 

Don't get me started about that non- goal either.  I'm not one to espouse conspiracy theories, but has anyone else notice that anytime there's been a replay situation so far this year, the Toronto office has ruled against the Capitals?  We're talking about yet another play that literally could have gone either way depending upon the interpretation of the rule.  I for one didn't think there was a "distinct kicking motion" that the rule spells out.  It was more like a distinct stopping motion of a skate blade.  But I'm not an NHL official.

I'll get this in here while I can, because I'm actually going to dedicate a whole post to the man, but:  MATTHIEU PERRAULT MATTHIEU PERRAULT MATTHIEU PERRAULT!!!!!!!

Now, about the other call-up from Chocolate-town....Jay Beagle.  I'll start by admitting my bias here--I just plain don't like him.  I'm sure he's a great team guy and all that but in the admittedly cup of coffee amount of time he's had with the team, he's yet to impress me even in the slightest.  For the life of me I can't think of anything.  So his stats from last night: 6:37 TOI, no shots, no points, a minus one, and one really stupid penalty.  Like I said, largely forgettable.  If this guy is supposed to be Boyd Gordon's fill-in, he's got one hell of an uphill climb before he earns the respect that Gordon has.

Another yuck--the top line laid another egg last night though the overall effort at least made it look better.  From what I hear Mike Knuble at least took the reins and tore into the team after the first period.  Somebody had to--they just looked lost out there.  But once again, lots of shots, no goals to show for it.  Ditto for the power play.  At least as far as goals that actually made it to the scoreboard, that is.   Sooner or later all that effort will pay off.  I'm betting on sooner than later.  You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, and you don't keep Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom off the scoresheet for very long.  Doesn't roll off the tongue but you get the idea.

One Jim that did get messed with out there was the Thrashers' Jim Slater.  He looked like one of these:

AUBURN HILLS, MI - AUGUST 19: A crash-test dummy sits in a testing sled at Takata's current crash-testing facility August 19, 2010 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Takata dedicated a new, high-tech 18,000 square-foot sled crash simulation facility today that cost $14.6 million and is expected to be built and operational by August of 2011. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)



Obviously I'm not talking about the band.

One other member of the Thrashers that was a true dummy Dustin Byfuglien.  What as a big bad 260 lb. forward are you doing throwing an elbow at a goalie?  Did you even try to get out of the way? Do you feel like a man now?  Hope you enjoyed watching the game from the locker room you bucket of crap!

Ok...done...calming down now.  But if you saw it you'll agree that Byfuglien's hit on Neuvirth was beyond illegal. The guy didn't even bother trying to get out of the way. But the worst of it was the Caps' response. Much has been made of this over at Japers and for good reason.  David Steckel, who, other than his faceoff talents has been a minor disappointment so far this year, just sort of nudged him halfheartedly. Byfuglien just shoved him aside like he was nothing.  To the rescue rode John Erskine who charged in from across the ice and laid the smack down on him but good.  It capped a nice send off as Byfuglien was kindly asked to exit the game for good having earned a match penalty for charging.

A word about John Erskine...there's been much negativity directed his way for his results.  I say, yes, you can complain about his results, but you cannot question his effort.  Let no one look upon his as nothing less than a team player.  Besides, he's part of that element of toughness that rounds the team out nicely.

So to wind things up, Matty P gets two assists, Semin gets the hat trick and Tomas Fleischmann of all people gets the game winner in OT.  How you like him now, folks?  What do I keep telling you, eh?  RESULT, RESULT, RESULT.

The rest of the story to be written in later games.  I know this much, though.  Watching the first line is like waiting for a timebomb to explode...with no timer.  Matthieu Perreault will keep up his efforts and earn the spot he deserved at the beginning, mark my words.  Mike Green will return and pump up the still-anemic power play.  Neuvirth will continue to steal games, and this team will continue on its crazy up-and-down ride and into a winning record for the month.

Enjoy the ride, not necessarliy from Acela Express.